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Industry calls on federal government to fight back against contraband cigarettes

Contraband tobacco seized in Edmonton. (SOURCE: AGLC) Contraband tobacco seized in Edmonton. (SOURCE: AGLC)
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The cigarette industry and an alliance of retailers is calling on the federal government to take action against contraband cigarettes, which hurt small business owners and expose youth to smoking.

At the annual general meeting of the Alberta Chamber of Commerce in Red Deer on Friday, Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc. (RBH) helped lead a call on the federal government to take steps to control the problem.

Officials said the seizure of 35 million contraband cigarettes over the past nine months illustrates how critical proper action is.

"We know contraband is controlled directly by gangs and other criminal organizations, and often when contraband tobacco is seized, illegal drugs including cocaine and fentanyl are also found," said Ron Bell, illicit trade prevention with RBH.

"Federal leadership, coordination and resources are needed to put an end to this organized criminal activity that's linked to gun and drug trafficking, and potentially putting cigarettes in the hands of youth."

RBH says a recent study suggests up to 45 per cent of cigarettes in B.C. are contraband and one out of every two cigarettes in Ontario are sold by organized crime groups.

The company says action has already been taken in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.

"Alberta announced a new working group to tackle contraband tobacco in its 2024 budget, Saskatchewan recently passed Bill 29 The Tobacco Tax Amendment Act that includes new contraband enforcement measures and Ontario's 2024 budget took action to increase penalties for criminals caught selling contraband."

However, RBH says "federal coordination, leadership and resources" are needed to effectively combat the issue.

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